Survey: Most academics and professionals don’t think UK’s lessons are helping people into green jobs

Conducted by the Royal Society of Chemistry (RSC) last year, the survey polled 619 educational providers and 1,198 people working in chemistry-related careers, to garner their views on the current state of green skills and the teaching of climate-related skills. The results were published this week.

The RSC’s overarching conclusion is that both of these communities believe that the current curriculum content on climate change and sustainability is falling far short of delivering the knowledge and skills needed by the workforce of the future.

There was a near-universal acknowledgement of the importance of lessons directly relating to the climate crisis and other aspects of environmental sustainability, for all age groups. Almost eight in ten (77%) of respondents from academia and industry said it is “very important” to directly link to sustainability in chemical sciences courses. The proportion was even higher for primary and secondary school educators.

But, more than one-quarter (29%) of the respondents stated that the current curriculum is not adequately encouraging and supporting students into further study or careers in the chemical sciences or sustainability fields. A further 40% said the current curriculum is only delivering “somewhat” good results in this regard. Overall, this is almost seven in 10 of the respondents dissatisfied with the current approach.

More than two-thirds (68%) of the practising chemists said they believe there is already a skills gap in terms of green jobs. Fields where jobs struggle to attract talent, the survey found, included carbon capture and measuring and reducing the impact of chemicals on the environment.

The RSC also polled 549 young people, aged 11 to 18. Of the 16 to 18 year-olds, half said they have already asked teachers for more detailed coverage of sustainability and climate change in lessons.


“We have a responsibility to educate and inspire young people throughout their education to prepare them for the challenges the world will face in the years to come – and the careers that arise from those challenges,” said the RSC’s director of education and professional practice Sarah Robinson.

 “By the time a five-year-old starting education this year will leave school, not only will those challenges be an even more pressing priority, but the job market will also look very different. 

“Despite this, and the UK’s work to achieving two million green jobs by 2030 and net-zero by2050, many academics, professionals and students feel that current chemistry curricula are falling short of equipping students with the skills and knowledge they need to fulfil these careers and play their part as responsible citizens.”

Education Minister Nadhim Zahawi appeared at COP26 to deliver a draft Sustainability and Climate Change Strategy for schools. That document outlined proposals for greening both the curriculum and school estates themselves.

Subject to consultation, a final version of the Strategy is due to be published this year. In its current form, the Strategy makes no mention of chemicals or chemistry. 

Lords turn to schools

In related news, the House of Lords Select Committee on the Environment and Climate Change has this week announced the six schools that it will work with to scrutinise the Government’s green policies over the next 12 months. There will be a focus on skills and education but students will also be invited to comment on other policy packages and the ways in which the Committee is scrutinising them. 

The selected schools hail from Wirral, Stockton-on-Tees, Dundee, Port Talbot, Carrickfergus and East Sussex. 

Students will join virtual meetings with peers to discuss the Committee’s work. Committee chair Baroness Parminter has pledged to visit each of the schools once the Covid-19 situation has improved.

“It’s great to see so many young people keen to get involved with efforts to combat climate change and protect the natural world,” said the Baroness. We had lots of interest and I thank everyone for their brilliant bids to work with us on these big issues.

“We look forward to hearing from and working with the students who’ll help us to do our job of holding the government to account and ensuring that policies meet climate targets.”

Sarah George

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